Background and context

The “Culture and Education” research group was founded by Ignasi Vila who joined the University of Girona in 1993 after previously working at the University of Barcelona. Currently professor emeritus of developmental psychology and education, Vila coordinates the research group alongside Moisès Esteban-Guitart.

From its inception in the 1990s and early 20th century, the group carried out different studies on bilingual education and language acquisition in bilingual family contexts through its participation in different administrations in Catalonia, Valencia and the Basque Country. During those years, it is important to highlight the work carried out on language immersion underpinned by two primary goals: one, that the language with less social presence in Catalonia – Catalan – be the medium of instruction in the education system; and two, the need to avoid separating children for linguistic reasons, in line with the key pedagogical principle handed down from Republican times (Serra, 1997; Vila 1993; Vila and Siguan, 1998).

Nevertheless, from 2000 onwards, the research group reformulated its perspective on bilingual education due to the increased numbers of foreign children with first languages other than Spanish and Catalan (Serra, 2010). In this context, the group began to focus its analysis on the schooling of foreign pupils and their language development. On these lines, since 2004, the group has helped to assess the knowledge of Catalan held by foreign students in language support classrooms in primary and secondary schools in Catalonia (Vila, Canal, Mayans, Perera, Serra and Siqués, 2009; Vila, Siqués and Roig, 2006); advising the governments of Galicia and the Basque Country up to the year 2008 on the treatment of official languages in education, as well as helping to design different public policies in the educational field focused on inclusion and social cohesion (Besalú and Vila, 2007, Gómez Granell and Vila, 2001; Vila and Casares, 2009).

Some of the results obtained show that, despite belonging to similar sociocultural levels, the academic results of students from African descent are significantly lower than the results of students from Eastern Europe, China or America. These results lead us to question whether language is the only factor that can explain the school performance of foreign students (Oller and Vila, 2012). Furthermore, assessments carried out in language support classrooms in Catalonia show that out of the different variables analysed (knowledge of Catalan, level of school adaptation, previous schooling, first language, age, year of arrival, number of hours per week of language support), the variable school adaptation (knowledge of and confidence in the school setting, coexistence and relations with adults and peers) is the one that has the most effect in terms of modifying the probability of students passing different language competence tests (Siqués, Perera and Vila, 2012).

These results lead us to question the relations of continuity and discontinuity between school and the social context, with particular reference to family-school relations, to be able to understand some of the specific characteristics involved in the schooling of immigrant children (Esteban-Guitart and Vila, 2013; Vila and Esteban-Guitart, 2017). Notions of “meaningfulness”, “recognition”, “learning experiences inside and outside school”, “links of mutual trust” between schools, families and social context gradually become the cornerstone of our work from 2010 onwards.

During this period, the group contributes towards the development of the Pact for Children in Catalonia, translated into the National Plan for the Comprehensive Care of Children and Adolescents 2014-2017, underpinned by empirical studies carried out under specific agreements with institutions such as the Barcelona City Council and the Figueres City Council. During these years, the group also participated in training programmes aimed at staff and professionals in early years centres (0-3 years) in the Autonomous Community of Cantabria (Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare, Government of Cantabria), as well as in the design and assessment of the  “Grow with you” programme aimed at all Catalan families with children between 0 and 3: A programme commissioned by the Ministry of Social Welfare and Families of the Government of Catalonia (Vila, Oller and Esteban-Guitart, 2005). Other educational programmes aimed directly or indirectly at families are: “Weaving cultures together. Bilingual stories from around the world” (Oller and Vila, 2011; Vila, Besalú, Esteban-Guitart, Serra, Oller and Siqués, 2014) and the action research approach: “Funds of knowledge and identity” (Esteban-Guitart, 2016; Esteban-Guitart and Vila, 2013), applied in ordinary schools, in the case of the Camins School in Banyoles (Llopart, 2017), as well as in open access centres, such as in the context of the Ciutat Meridiana area of Barcelona (Subero and Esteban-Guitart, 2017)

A special mention goes to the studies led by Víctor López-Ros focused on the teaching and learning processes involved in physical activities and sport. In this regard, since 2000 the group has carried out studies on the mechanisms of educational influence in the field of physical education and sport (Llobet-Martí, López-Ros and Vila, 2017; Llobet-Martí, López-Ros, Barrera-Gómez and Comino-Ruiz, 2016). Regarding the transfer of knowledge in relation to this specific line of research, it is important to note the studies carried out in the framework of the Chair of Sport and Physical Education-Olympic Studies Centre of the University of Girona led by Víctor López-Ros, as well as the joint work carried out with public administrations, such as López-Ros’ participation in the working commission of the second working line of the Strategic Plan for School Sport led by the General Secretary for Sport, and the agreements with the Girona Regional Council, the Town Council of Banyoles, the EUSES Foundation, and the Sporting Council of l’Alt Empordà.

The empirical results obtained in the different projects and agreements worked on over recent years have led us to form three conclusions upon which the group projects its present and future research activity. Firstly, the importance of conceiving teacher training as a “mediated” and “mediating” framework; “mediated” by the analysis of real practical situations or by teachers’ own experiences (Masgrau-Juanola, López-Ros, Serra-Bonet and Falgàs-Isern, 2017); “mediating” between school educational practice on the one hand, and the funds of knowledge of families and student identities on the other (Subero, Vujasinovic and Esteban-Guitart, 2017). In this sense, the establishment of educational continuities – processes of educational contextualisation (Llopart and Esteban-Guitart, 2017) – between school and students’ practices, life contexts and learning experiences is now the main focus of our analysis and intervention. Secondly, the importance of physical activity and sport as a fundamental practice and context of socialisation in people’s lifestyles, especially during childhood and adolescence (López-Ros and Sargatal, 2008; López-Ros, Pradas and Font, 2014). Thirdly, the importance of recognising and establishing relations of mutual trust in order to foster meaningful processes that encourage students’ involvement and learning.